Perilous Times by Thomas D Lee

May 24, 2023

An immortal Knight of the Round Table faces his greatest challenge yet—saving the politically polarized, rapidly warming world from itself—in this slyly funny contemporary take on Arthurian legend.

Legends don’t always live up to reality.

Being reborn as an immortal defender of the realm gets awfully tiring over the years—or at least that’s what Sir Kay’s thinking as he claws his way up from beneath the earth yet again.

Kay once rode alongside his brother, King Arthur, as a Knight of the Round Table. Since then, he has fought at Hastings and at Waterloo and in both World Wars. But now he finds himself in a strange new world where oceans have risen, the army’s been privatized, and half of Britain’s been sold to foreign powers. The dragon that’s running amok—that he can handle. The rest? He’s not so sure.

Mariam’s spent her life fighting what’s wrong with her country. But she’s just one ordinary person, up against a hopelessly broken system. So when she meets Kay, she dares to hope that the world has finally found the savior it needs.

Yet as the two travel through this bizarre and dangerous land, they discover that a magical plot of apocalyptic proportions is underway. And Kay’s too busy hunting dragons—and exchanging blows with his old enemy Lancelot—to figure out what to do about it. 

In perilous times like these, the realm doesn’t just need a knight. It needs a true leader. 

Luckily, Excalibur lies within reach. 

But who will be fit to wield it?

This week we’re diving into the realms of urban fantasy. Perilous Times by Thomas D Lee welcomes you to a near-future vision of Britain that feels all too believable. Parts of the country are underwater, while others have been sold off for profit by the powers that be. Things are bad and they are getting steadily worse. 

Mariam just wants to be left in peace, but there is part of her that can’t stand idly by as the country she loves falls apart. The concept of helping others lies at the core of her being. Everyone deserves the opportunity to live a good life, to be part of a flourishing society. Miriam is well-meaning but sometimes her attempts at direct action go a bit awry. Huge explosions at fracking sites probably aren’t the best way to send a positive message about saving the environment. Marian needs help in her quest to save the kingdom. Turns out that the quality of that help is…questionable. There are some very special individuals who can be called on to assist. The problem is, the Knights of the Round Table are about the most dysfunctional bunch of self-assured blowhards you are likely ever to meet.

Kay and Lancelot have been at odds for centuries. Regularly raised to solve Britain’s various traumas (mostly wars – hot or cold), there is a barely contained animosity between them. Each believes the other a traitor to their righteous duty. I loved the antagonistic snark, they spark off one another at every meeting. 

Arthur is as bombastic and larger than life as expected. I suppose if you’re destined to rise and save the realm, you have to be something a bit special dont you? Things only become a bit of an issue when you start believing your own hype. Myths and legends have a habit of glossing over or twisting the important details of a person’s character. 

Merlin is cool in a chaotic, time-displaced, multi-versal wizard sort of fashion. I’ve always imagined him to be slightly distracted by everything in only the way a wizard can. Lee’s interpretation is exactly that. 

I’ll even admit a certain amount of fondness for Barry the xenophobically misguided squirrel. Even Nimue, she of many a water-based shenanigan, is also a joy. 

The comedic moments are well executed. I wouldn’t describe them as overt, more wry smiles than belly laughs.  We’re not quite into the realm of running around using coconuts to replace the thunder of horses’ hooves. I think the novel is better for it. Lee’s understated approach works perfectly within the confines of the narrative. 

The cheeky old so-and-so! I’ve just spotted that the author has even managed to sneak in some of that there learning into our brains while we weren’t looking. Turns out the book title refers to a Bible* quote. 

This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers,..

Sounds spookily accurate describing our splendid little rock in the middle of the ocean right about now, doesn’t it? Mind you, humanity always has had a terribly high opinion of itself. I suspect when we do finally meet our downfall will deserve it. If I were a betting man, I think chucking a couple of quid on AI destroying us is worth a punt. Don’t expect I’d be around to collect my winnings though. 

Apologies, I went off on a bit of an apocalyptic tangent there.

Back to the book.

Perilous Times is a great deal of fun. It effortlessly blends together the end-times prophecy of the Arthurian mythos with a prescient warning of how we treat our home. I recommend checking out if you enjoy urban fantasy with brains as well as heart.

Perilous Times is published by Orbit Books and is available from 25th May.

My musical recommendation to accompany Perilous Times in the soundtrack to The Old Guard by Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O’Halloran. Every near immortal needs something to listen to and based on what I’ve discovered in the novel Lancelot’s taste in music is terrible.

*Oh yeah, I do my research, don’t you know. This quote comes from the King James edition for those of you who are interested in that sort of thing.

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